What Is Money?

Money has taken many forms throughout history. Gourds, stones, feathers, Beaver Pelts, sticks, bronze axes, and dozens of other items that we might now consider odd choices for currency have served as money. In ancient Greece, oxen were used as the basic unit of exchange. When gold and silver coins were finally introduced into the culture, the ox remained the basis for metal money, with each of the various coins being valued as various fractions of an ox. In the Early days of Rome, Caesar paid his troops with cakes of salt. In fact, the word "salary" comes from the Latin word "sal", meaning salt. When early American settlers found that clam shells (wampum) were the most useful material they could have for trading with the Indians, they began to use it for trading among themselves. In 1637, the government of Massachusetts made wampum legal tender. While we may consider some of these choices as odd, many were quite successful. One-inch square, notched rods of hazel wood called Tally Sticks (some up to four feet in length) were successfully employed as the basic monetary unit in England from 1100 to 1826. Marco Polo, in his travels to China, discovered that paper notes as large as sheets of paper were being used by Kublai Khan. Grand public works projects were entirely financed with the Khan's paper currency. The traveler Polo reported that the currency "circulated in every part of the grand khan's dominions, nor dares any person, at peril of his life, refuse to accept it in payment." Shortly after 1300, as the Khans' empire itself was weakening, the khan's paper notes fell into disuse.

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